It starts with twelve across.
“Hah,” Jaime says one morning at his weekly Sunday brunch with his brother.
Tyrion's looking at the financial section of the paper while Jaime works on the crossword puzzle, just as they do every week. He doesn't respond, so Jaime clears his throat and says, “There's a new crosswords editor.”
“That's nice,” Tyrion says.
“They must have first-week jitters; they've gotten something wrong.”
“Well, mistakes happen.” Tyrion flips a page of his paper and then takes a bite of his toast. The slow, thoughtful crunching drives Jaime mad.
“This isn't a spelling mistake. This is getting a fundamental fact wrong, it ruins the whole crossword.”
“Too bad,” Tyrion murmurs. He flips another page. Takes another bite of his toast. Chews like a cow.
“I should contact them,” Jaime says, standing abruptly.
Tyrion sighs and folds his paper down. He wears glasses these days, and the look he gives Jaime in them reminds Jaime entirely too much of their father. “If you must,” Tyrion says, which also reminds Jaime of their father.
“It's important,” Jaime insists.
“Where are you going?”
“My office to use my laptop. I hate typing on my phone; I can't express the fullness of my thoughts on those shitty little keyboards.”
Tyrion just hums and lets Jaime stride away without further comment. They alternate houses for brunch, and this week, fortunately, it's at Jaime's. He settles down at his computer and searches the King's Landing Times website to confirm that the crossword editor's email is the same, then types up a message.
Subject: This week's crossword
I am sending this email in regards to your crossword answer for 12-across in today's newspaper. The clue was 'Oathkeeper's owner' and the suggested answer was 'Blue Knight.' Oathkeeper actually belonged to Goldenhand the Just, not the Blue Knight. This seems like a fairly easy fact, I'm surprised you got it wrong. But I see from the note accompanying the crossword that it is your first week. You do not need to credit me when you issue the correction.
Jaime Lannister, PhD of History
He reads the email through again, decides to add “(Early Westerosi)” to the end of his name to indicate his area of specialty so that the editor knows he's not just some bored crank causing trouble, and then sends the message with an emphatic click of the mouse.
When he returns to the table, Tyrion looks up from his paper. He's moved on to the Entertainment section and, even better, he's finished his absurdly crunchy toast.
“Feel better?” Tyrion asks, smirking.
“As a matter of fact, yes.” Jaime sits down and takes the comics.
“Were you polite?”
“Of course I was polite. I'm not a monster,” Jaime huffs. He settles in with the paper, but every time he looks at the crossword sitting at his elbow he gets freshly annoyed, until he has to shove it under a plate. After that, their brunch is pleasant and routine and Jaime forgets he even sent the email until he gets into his office the next morning and sees a response from the editor.
Jaime has sent multiple messages to the previous crossword editors of the Times and has never once received a response back. It's thrilling, he admits, to finally get a personal thank you. Perhaps this new one will even think to ask him for advice for future history questions.
Subject: RE: This week's crossword
Evidence discovered in recent years shows that the Blue Knight was the last rightful owner of Oathkeeper. Thank you for your diligence. Please enjoy this Sunday's crossword.
B.Tarth (KLT Crosswords Editor)
Agog, Jaime immediately calls his brother. “Tyrion!” he barks as soon as Tyrion picks up. “The crosswords editor got back to me.”
“Good morning,” Tyrion says dryly.
“They corrected my correction. Can you believe that? Me!”
“Dreadful,” Tyrion drawls.
“I'm a noted professor of history, Tyrion. Westerosi history. Age of Heroes Westerosi history.”
“I was at your hooding ceremony.”
“And this 'B. Tarth' has the gall to say that I'm wrong. About Oathkeeper. Oathkeeper!” Jaime slaps his palm down on the desk, and he winces from the sting.
“That's the sword, right?”
Jaime sighs and stares at the very expensive replica he had specially crafted to perfectly mimic the real sword. The replica hangs in a place of honor on his wall; he gets comments on it from students every semester. “Yes, Tyrion, that's the sword. One of two, the dual blades of Ice.”
“A sword made of ice?”
“I know you're only doing this to annoy me.”
“Is it working?”
Jaime grunts in assent. “I'm going to email the editor back.”
“Please don't do that,” Tyrion says, sounding weary. “Remember the textbook fiasco?”
“'Fiasco.'” Jaime scoffs. “It's not my fault that they insisted on painting the Targaryen lines as being owed their 'rightful rule' when clearly--”
“Jaime,” Tyrion says patiently. “I love you, but I don't want to go through this again. I especially don't want to have to protect you from another libel lawsuit.”
“I was well within my rights to pen that op-ed.”
“You were, which is why the suit wasn't successful. But I have real clients, Jaime. Paying clients. Leave it be.”
He does, because it's mid-terms and though his students are eager, they are also very young and very lost, and he doesn't have time to do more than glare with annoyance at the email in his Inbox in between classes and office hours and late nights grading.
At brunch the next weekend, Jaime fruitlessly searches the Corrections page of the Times and is not surprised to find the crossword suggestion missing. He is incensed to find another incorrect answer.
“My god,” Jaime says, staring at six down.
Tyrion's eating muffins this week, so at least there's not as much crunching, though he's getting crumbs everywhere. To clear them he keeps flicking his newspaper at evenly spaced intervals with the same relentless consistency as one-drip water torture. He is studiously uninterested in Jaime's outburst, so Jaime nudges his foot.
“Tyrion,” he says. “You won't believe this.”
Tyrion glances over to see Jaime with pen in hand and the paper folded and braced on his knee, and he sighs. “Another mistake?”
“Mistake? Direct offense. Is your computer on?”
Tyrion waves in the general direction of his office and Jaime stalks that way, flips open Tyrion's laptop and types in the password his brother leaves on the sticky note taped to the keyboard. Jaime logs into his own email account, considers responding to B. Tarth's last message, and then decides this particular error requires its own email.
Subject: This week's crossword – another error
Your misguided ideas about Oathkeeper notwithstanding (that ‘evidence’ was vague at best; a lie at worst – I should know, I've read Dr. Payne’s thesis), surely you must admit that Jon Snow could not possibly have been the so-called Azor Ahai because his sword was not Lightbringer. Many think Goldenhand was actually Azor Ahai, a reading I myself have spent many years researching. For my Doctorate. In history. It’s a shame your newspaper allows you to print such baseless guesses as facts, even if it is in a crossword puzzle. Perhaps this time you will make the necessary corrections.
Dr. Jaime Lannister
He hits send and spends all day anxiously waiting for Monday.
Brienne has never had a job quite like this one. It's her dream job in so many ways; editor and constructor of the crossword section of the King's Landing Times is one of those one-in-a-million roles that one has to be both talented and lucky enough to land, and luck has not, mostly, been on Brienne's side. They let her dictate the clues, research the answers, indulge her amateur love of history two weeks running with no request to adjust course the third week. She mostly works on her own and on her own schedule, only needing to talk with the layout team once a week about sizing and position, though it essentially never changes and hasn't for decades. It's all more than she could have hoped for.
The readers of the King's Landing Times are not the quiet, opinion-free audience at her previous jobs, where the crossword puzzle was considered a frivolous game that no one would give a second thought to. No, Times readers have very strong opinions about everything, including the Times Sunday Crossword Puzzle. When the last editor did his handoff, he'd warned her that people would complain about the tiniest problems, and that none would complain so loudly as the academics.
“Don't respond,” he'd warned her. “They won't listen, and if you show you're reading their endless complaints, then it will be blood in the water. Just check to make sure you haven't done anything really offensive, and delete. And by the gods, don't use your real name.”
“Afraid they'll come to my home?” she'd asked, amused.
He'd shaken his head slowly. “Afraid they'll realize you're a woman and that will make it ten times worse. Good luck, Brienne.”
She'd thought it all nonsense, until she'd gotten into the office Monday after her very first crossword – Sansa had taken her phone and laptop from her all Sunday so she couldn't check the response – and seen a dozen emails. Most of them were congratulations from long-time solvers and hopes that she would continue the “grand tradition” of the Times Crossword page. One was her father, delighted to have an official address to send her his congratulations. One was a complaint that she didn't have any mythology-based clues.
And then there was the one from Jaime Lannister.
“He's arrogant,” the previous editor had told her. “And he will email you for every perceived slight to history. Ignore him most of all.”
Brienne had scoffed at the idea. She's not a professor, but she's a history addict and with her extensive research skills she has always been confident her mistakes will be minimal at best. When she'd seen an email from Lannister waiting for her after her first puzzle, she'd opened it with the expectation he would, at worst, have requests for a different history angle, seeing as her question about Oathkeeper showed a mind clearly engaged in the latest research.
She'd been livid at his actual message, had responded, perhaps, a little tersely, though she'd been polite. Then she'd put in the Azor Ahai clue to show him he couldn't intimidate her by throwing around his doctorate, and forced herself not to check her email until she arrived Monday morning.
When she sits down at her desk, the timestamp on his email shows yesterday morning. Though an apology wouldn't have been out-of-place, the actual subject line puts her back up before she even opens the message. She reads it with a quiet fury, and then reads it again, hitting Reply immediately after.
Subject: RE: This week's crossword – another error
Dr. Payne is a good friend of mine, and I supported him in his research for his eye-opening thesis on Oathkeeper's ownership. Though old evidence suggested the sword came from Goldenhand, Dr. Payne's argument that the Blue Knight was the sword's ultimate owner is impeccable. Perhaps you should read it again with a mind to learn instead of critique.
As for your assertion that Azor Ahai could only be Goldenhand, I have to say that that is as baseless a guess as Jon Snow, and the history world is evenly divided on who it actually was. To act like this is well-known fact is disingenuous. It seems it is time for you to look outside the walls of your own University to hear what other historians are saying.
It isn't Brienne's best customer service moment, but to have Podrick's work so carelessly disregarded makes her too angry to think straight, or to remember her father's advice to never email while upset. She's enough of a history buff to recognize Dr. Lannister's name, but his work is narrow and very deep around Goldenhand in particular. Though Goldenhand is an interesting character of the time, Brienne has always been more fascinated by the less well-known figures who have much fewer papers written about them. Especially the Blue Knight, who Brienne is confident is some sort of distant relation connected through their Tarth bloodlines.
Brienne spends the next week writing all of her clues as usual, except for her history one, because every time she thinks about it, she thinks about Dr. Lannister. He hasn't responded to her last message, but she knows he'll jump on even the smallest hint of being wrong in this week's crossword. She doesn't want to get another email from this stodgy, arrogant man, correcting her about something that she knows is right. Brienne does, finally, land on the last clue, sends in her finished crossword, and stoically doesn't check her email until Monday again. She doesn't want him to ruin her weekend, even though she spends much of Sunday staring at her closed laptop.
When she does finally log in on Monday, she is unsurprised to see yet another email from him.
Subject: Yet another error
Pronouncing yourself a friend and research assistant of Dr. Payne's does nothing to increase my confidence in either your or his grasp of Westerosi history. I thought at first this week's crossword would be mercifully free of errors, until I got to sixty-three across.
I admit that at least I laughed this time, though it was due to the truly absurd answer to 'Young Wolf' being 'Arya.' Robb Stark is famously known as the Young Wolf, and even if you were going by age, Rickon Stark was the youngest of the Stark family at that time. The only reason I can fathom that you'd think Arya was the right choice is that you buy into the total malarkey that she was a 'warg,' which is children's tripe. Perhaps you should be writing fairytales and not crossword puzzles.
Dr. Jaime Lannister
“What an asshole,” Brienne seethes out loud, and her cubicle mate, Renly Baratheon, Fashion reporter, looks her way.
“Oh, not you,” she says, blushing a little. It's hard to look at Renly directly, with his shock of dark hair and beautiful eyes and handsome face. He smells good, too, and every morning when she comes in she leans a little near him and breathes deep. Renly's been welcoming and kind and it's only been a month but she has a crush on him already. “Just this annoying professor who keeps emailing me thinking he's right about everything.”
“At least you don't have KL's richest flooding your inbox with photos of their truly awful fashion sense. Mondays are the worst because they've been partying all weekend. Come look at this.” He waves her over and she rolls her chair near, is swarmed by the scent of his cologne and tries not to stare at the perfect line of his neck while he shows her his own troublesome readers.
It's distracting enough that she doesn't even think about responding to Dr. Lannister until much later that day and, as usual, her dad's advice had been right – she's able to compose a much less snappish reply.
Subject: RE: Yet another error
Perhaps fairy tales are more your speed if a crossword puzzle gets you so worked up.
She reads it again. Possibly it's not much less snappish. But somewhat. Brienne sends it anyway and then gets back to work, the lingering scent of Renly's cologne still hanging in the air, though he's gone for the day.
“The absolute nerve,” Jaime says to Tyrion over the phone on his drive home that evening. It had been a long day, marked with constant checking of his email for B. Tarth's response, until his colleagues had convinced him to join them for drinks at the local pub to celebrate someone's birthday. Jaime had no idea who, but Tyrion was always on him to get out more and not be such a stereotypical academic recluse, so Jaime had gone.
It hadn't been terrible, but he was glad to have his one beer and leave again before everyone else got annoyingly drunk and he got saddled with driving people home. He left money for cabs with the bartenders and then left his colleagues to their fun, and it had all been just fine until he'd checked his email one last time before starting the journey home.
Now he's gripping the steering wheel and ranting at Tyrion as he weaves through the light, late-evening traffic.
“Are you sure you weren't rude to this person, Jaime?”
“Not as rude as I could have been,” Jaime hedges, and Tyrion sighs.
“Please stop harassing the poor KL Times crossword editor. There is no way they get paid enough for this.”
“If I just knew who 'B. Tarth' was--”
“If you can't find it in an internet search, I am not helping you. Remember the conference fiasco?” Tyrion says with a stunning lack of moral support.
“Everything is a 'fiasco' with you,” Jaime grumbles. “All I asked for was the man's hotel room. I just wanted to point out the errors in his presentation and he refused to stay after for questions or comments.”
“He was the keynote speaker, Jaime.”
“That doesn't mean he's above reproach.”
“They presented an award named in his honor,” Tyrion says, nearly shouting.
Jaime barely avoids running a red light and shrugs in his car. “Even respected scholars can be wrong sometimes.”
“I can be wrong,” Jaime says. “I just very rarely am.”
“Have you considered you might be wrong here?” Tyrion asks, though Jaime's not sure why when his brother sounds so hopeless about it.
“Impossible. It all goes back to Tarth's insistence on this Oathkeeper nonsense. If I could just get them to see the truth--”
“Jaime,” Tyrion says in a warning tone. “Leave the innocent editor alone and get a new hobby to distract you, or I'm going to start cutting out the crossword puzzle from the newspaper every Sunday.”
“You wouldn't dare.”
“Try me.” Tyrion has his lawyer voice engaged, and Jaime decides it's too late in the day to push him.
“Fine. I'll leave the editor alone this week.”
Jaime snorts. “I refuse to agree to those terms, counselor.”
Tyrion sighs, loud and long. “Sometimes it's a real struggle being your brother.”
“But you'll still have brunch with me on Sunday, won't you?” Jaime asks. He says it jokingly, but there's always the small voice that worries that someday Tyrion will be the final person that Jaime drives away.
“Of course,” Tyrion says, and Jaime relaxes back into the leather seat. “But seriously, Jaime, leave the editor alone.”
“Fine, fine. See you Sunday.”
They hang up, and Jaime arrives at his apartment and manages to wait almost an hour before he goes to his computer to start searching for who 'B. Tarth' actually is.
Subject: Your consistency
I have to give it to you: I've never been compelled to email the editor four weeks in a row. The other one gave up after three because he accepted that this wasn't his area of expertise. Your answer for the clue 'Valonqar' nearly made me choke on my poached eggs.
If you insist on including further history clues, would you at least read the following papers? I pulled them from my personal library.
Dr. Jaime Lannister
Subject: RE: Women Knights
Yes, I believe the Knight of the Laughing Tree was a woman. No, I do not have specific evidence. Do you?
If you do, I'll include any clue you want in a future crossword. If you don't, you cannot email me for an entire week.
It's been two weeks, which means I can contact you again. Good thing, as your crossword clues even from last week to this took such a fantastical leap that you might as well secretly be a fantasy writer. Duncan the Tall as an ancestor of the Blue Knight? There is zero empirical evidence to support that kind of brash statement except that they were both tall. The Clegane brothers were also both tall, perhaps they were of a family?
Dr. Jaime Lannister
Subject: RE: Madness
No, I am not “just fucking with you” with this week's clue. It is entirely possible the Hand of the Mad Queen is the one who picked Brandon Stark to rule after the Queen's untimely death. It doesn't make a ton of sense, but there has never been any single, agreed-upon report of why a magical, delusional young man was selected as King when there were plenty of other perfectly good options right there, including, yes, Goldenhand.
I have attached a picture of the shield I referenced in my last response to you. As you can see, that is clearly Duncan's sigil. Since the Blue Knight is an ancestor of mine, the logic of it makes sense, particularly given evidence from your own research.
It takes two months before Brienne gets up the courage to ask Renly for coffee. She frames it as a break from work, and he agrees readily, stretching his arms over his head so that his shirt pulls up and she can see a flash of his skin. It looks soft and she averts her gaze immediately so as not to embarrass either of them. The coffee date is lovely; they talk easily about their jobs – Renly goes on about the Times' fashion photographer, Loras, and Brienne expands on her pest professor, Dr. Lannister – and they laugh and share a scone that Renly buys and Brienne smiles the whole rest of the day, even though Renly leaves after lunch with Loras for a Friday afternoon shoot. He pauses on his way out of the cubicle and leans back in to smile at her.
“I had a nice time talking to you earlier,” he says, and he's so handsome she has trouble forming words, so she just nods eagerly. “Big plans this weekend?”
“N-no,” she manages. “Just the usual. You?”
“Maybe,” he says. He winks at her and then taps the side of the cubicle wall and leaves.
She spends all weekend waiting for him to call, certain that his vague answer meant he's thinking of asking her out, but there's no message. When she shows up at work on Monday she's glad she hadn't told anyone that's what she was waiting for, especially when she finds Renly and Loras pressed far-too-close together for coworkers as she walks in.
“Oh!” she gasps, and they shift apart, both looking around and not at her, like two naughty boys. When Loras leaves with some mumbled excuse, Brienne catches the way his hand lingers at Renly's waist for a moment, and she is mortified by the realization that Renly spent their coffee date telling her all about the boy he liked, not sharing stories about the most annoying part of his day, which had been what she'd been doing.
To make matters worse, there's an email from Dr. Lannister in her inbox – of course there is – with the subject line “Invitation.” After fending off Renly's innocent questions about her weekend (“It was fine,” she tells him, without expanding on how she'd spent it hovering near her phone, waiting for him), Brienne reads Dr. Lannister's email.
That shield is a remarkable find. Have you officially reported it anywhere? It should be in a protective case at the museum, not hanging out in an attic. I'm extending an invitation to bring it here to King's Landing University, where we will take much better care of it, preserving it for future generations.
Dr. Jaime Lannister
PS – I have looked you up on the internet for weeks and you're nowhere to be found. Who are you?
Brienne stares at the postscript note in shock. He's been searching her out? And now he wants her to come to KLU? It sounds like the most obvious set-up for an axe murder she's ever heard. He'll probably want her to meet him after hours in the lab, and then once she goes, she'll never be heard from again.
He does make a good point, though – she's heard of Dr. Jaime Lannister in her research, but she doesn't know much about the man. For the most part, Brienne doesn't care about the historians themselves. They're mostly men, mostly privileged, mostly uninterested in the smaller, more innately human parts of history, so she doesn't bother caring about them in return. It has been two solid months of correspondence, however; except that one week where he'd abided by the agreement she'd thrust on him, genuinely surprising her that he had. Perhaps it's time she learn more about Dr. Lannister as well. If he's got an unfortunate history, she can feel even more confident in not accepting his offer.
Brienne finishes reading and responding to her other emails and then opens up a tab in her browser to search. Where she has kept her online life to a minimum, and used “B. Tarth” where she could, Dr. Lannister seems to show up everywhere. It's purely curiosity that has Brienne clicking the 'Images' option to see what he looks like. She expects a rotund man with little to no hair, the red nose of a heavy drinker, unflattering round spectacles, and perhaps a tweed coat.
The only thing she gets right is the tweed.
She gapes at the first photo in utter shock, her world attempting to rotate itself onto this new axis. Jaime Lannister is not an old, stodgy professor. He's older than her, yes, and his jacket is dark gray with elbow patches, but those are by far the least remarkable things about him. The fact is--
Sitting next to Renly for two months, Brienne had thought she'd seen a peak example of how attractive a man could be. And Renly is handsome, there's no doubt. The charm flows easily from him, and his smile and his eyes are always friendly. She doesn't think he's suddenly any less good-looking now that she's seen Jaime Lannister. It's just that Jaime Lannister has abruptly altered the bell curve of male beauty, and where Renly had once been the extreme outlier, he's now closer to the middle.
She clicks to another picture, this one from a different angle, taken at a conference where he's wearing glasses and gesturing emphatically about something. Somehow, he's broken his own bell curve.
Brienne spends a significant amount of time looking at photos of him online, catches sight of her reflection in the monitor at one point and sees she has a sort of hysterical grin on her face. She wants to laugh and she's not even sure why. It's just all so preposterous, that the arrogant, condescending, argumentative jerk that she's been emailing with for two months is also this unbelievable, golden-skinned, silver-templed half-god.
It's obnoxious, frankly. She replaces the mental image she'd constructed with this new image and then pictures him sitting at his desk, typing up the same messages. She's filled with an intense, irrational anger that he looks like this and acts like that. Her Imaginary Dr. Lannister had been annoying, but in ways she was familiar with. This Dr. Lannister is annoying in brand new, uncomfortable ways. She suspects he usually gets away with being an ass because of how he looks. That's probably why he invited her to the university, with the intention of trying to work some weird, handsome magic on her.
Though he did admit in the email that he doesn't know who she is, so it's just as likely to him that she's some male professor-type, too. Of course, Jaime Lannister could probably seduce most men, looking like that.
Brienne closes the tab, furious at him and herself and Renly, too, although that's not really fair to him. She doesn't answer Jaime's email at all that week.
“At least I know the crossword editor isn't sick,” Jaime says at brunch the next weekend.
Tyrion is delicately arranging his scrambled eggs onto an english muffin, and every time a little piece falls off he makes a “boop!” noise and then puts it back on.
A lot of little pieces fall off.
“They never responded to my invitation,” Jaime continues. “The mysterious B. Tarth won't even communicate now, let alone leave an internet trail. Who doesn't leave an internet trail?”
“Hackers?” Tyrion offers. “Boop!”
“Be serious, Tyrion. Tarth is barely a historian, there's no way they're a hacker. Do you think they might be a woman?”
“It's a distinct possibility.”
Jaime considers what he knows of B. Tarth – secretive about their name, even after multiple months; fascinated by women knights; convinced they're an ancestor of the Blue Knight, who was assuredly a woman, and one Jaime is familiar with from her relationship with Goldenhand. Jaime considers the long list of B. Tarths that he's discovered on the internet. Many of them still live on the island that bears their name; many of them are men. None of them seem to have the background that would suggest they're capable of being Times crossword editors.
“Tyrion, are you sure--”
“I'm not spying on this person for you, Jaime, especially if they're a woman. Boop!”
Jaime blows air indignantly out of his nose and shovels down his brunch, finishing just as Tyrion's taking his first bite of his carefully constructed egg-and-muffin sandwich.
“Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Tyrion asks as Jaime stands and gathers up the weekly crossword. He hasn't even started it yet, he's been so distracted by everything else.
“I'm going to reach out to friends, since my own brother refuses to help me.”
“Do you even have any friends?” Tyrion asks wryly, and Jaime snorts like an angry bull again at his brother.
“Enjoy your brunch,” he snaps. “And you dropped some egg.”
“Ah, phooey,” Tyrion says. Before Jaime shuts the front door behind him he hears one last: “Boop!”
Monday, Jaime does what he should have done two weeks ago when Tarth sent him that photo of the shield: he shows up at the Times offices and strides up to the receptionist with his most winning smile. He can see the woman melt under the force of it.
“Good morning sir,” she coos breathily. “How may I help you?”
“I'm here to see Tarth,” he says with feigned confidence.
The young woman frowns a little and asks, “Tarth? The island?”
“Your crosswords editor. I have an appointment,” he lies.
“Oh, Brienne! Of course,” she says, laughing delicately. “May I have your name please?”
He gives it to her and she checks her computer and then shakes her head in apology. “I don't see you in our records. Did Ms. Tarth enter you into the visitor system?”
“You'll have to ask her that,” Jaime says. “But perhaps I got the day wrong. I'll go home and double-check and give her a call.”
“I can call her now for you, if you'd like?”
He considers it, heavily, and then decides ambushing the woman is not the best way to earn her trust enough to get a look at that shield. “That's all right, I don't mind coming back again. Thank you, miss.”
“My pleasure,” she sighs, batting her eyelashes.
Jaime considers this new information on the drive home. Brienne Tarth, crosswords editor. A woman. That makes his next step both more complicated and much easier. He'll need to find a way to meet with her in person, which is the complicated part, but then he'll be able to charm his way into her good graces once they're face-to-face. Jaime has a one hundred percent success rate with women, regardless of their sexual orientation. He doesn't do it by being sleazy, he does it because he genuinely likes them. Before his twin hit puberty and abandoned him for the cool crowd, Jaime grew up surrounded mostly by women – Cersei and her girl friends, their mother, and then, after she died, their aunt and nanny. He feels more at ease around women, and they seem to sense that about him.
Yes, this is turning out for the best. Once he figures out a way to casually run into Brienne Tarth, it will all be a piece of cake.
Brienne isn't upset, exactly, when Dr. Lannister doesn't email her for the second time ever that Sunday. She's relieved at first, because it means she doesn't have to avoid any awkward questions about his invitation. Then she feels guilty, because his last email is still sitting unanswered in her inbox with a little 'To Do' flag that is bright red and angry with her for not To-Doing it. And then she's mad at him again for putting her into this position in the first place.
She's extra busy prepping two crosswords at once so she can take time off next week to go see her father and still meet her deadlines. Each day she works through lunch and late into the night, eating from her snack drawer and ignoring the email from Dr. Lannister with an intense focus she hasn't used since college.
On Friday, Renly says, “Brienne, please unchain yourself from your desk and come to lunch with Loras and I. You've made me feel so lazy all week, and it's Friday.”
She's nearly done, and she's sick of trail mix, so she locks her computer, stretches, and stands. “All right,” she tells him, and he links his arm with hers to escort her to the elevator.
Now that he's dating Loras, Renly's even friendlier with Brienne, touching her constantly, making all kinds of jokes and innuendos. It hurts a little, still, but it's nice to have his genial, platonic attention so she lets him do things like wrap their arms up tightly as they step out of the elevator and into the lobby. Loras is waiting for them downstairs, and he's talking to someone Brienne doesn't recognize.
Brienne opens her mouth to ask Renly who it is when Loras turns towards them and the man turns with him and Brienne stops dead in her tracks.
“Fuck,” she whispers very quietly, but Renly is still attached to her at the arm and he turns and stares at her in surprise.
“Brienne? What's wrong?”
The man is watching them with a slightly tilted head and a very tilted smile, and impossibly he is even more beautiful live and in person than he had been in photos because now he's real and he may be a world-class jackass, but his charisma is a physical force.
“That's him,” she squeaks. “The jerk.”
“That's Dr. Lannister?” She nods mutely. “I didn't know they built professors like that.”
Loras and Dr. Lannister are walking towards them and she clamps even more tightly onto Renly's arm for support. Dr. Lannister's eyes trail lazily towards her white-knuckled grip before returning to her face again. He studies her and she waits for the backlash about her features – he doesn't seem like he's the type to be shy with his opinions – but none comes, not even in his expression, which looks mostly just... surprised.
“Who's your friend?” Renly asks Loras, in a decidedly jealous tone that makes Loras roll his eyes.
“An old family acquaintance. Jaime, this is my boyfriend, Renly Baratheon, and, uh, one of our editors at the Times, Brienne Tarth. Renly, Brienne, this is Jaime Lannister.”
Renly extricates himself from Brienne's tight grip and the two men shake hands before Lannister turns to Brienne and extends his hand to her, as well.
“Ms. Tarth,” he says, and his voice is smooth and sexy and full with amusement, damn him. She shakes his hand as briefly as possible.
“Dr. Lannister,” he says, giving her a knowing smile. “It's a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Loras looks stunned. “You two know each other?”
“Not exactly,” Lannister admits. “We've exchanged many emails over the last couple of months.”
“You're the jerk?” Loras blurts out, and Brienne shuts her eyes in horror, knows her face is going patchy red with her blush.
Lannister chuckles, something deep and offensively masculine that rumbles out from his chest. “Apparently so.”
Brienne forces herself to face him, and he looks delighted by the whole thing. What a weirdo.
“I suppose it's good to put a face to the emails,” she says. “We're off to lunch, though, I'm afraid.”
“I have time to join you,” he says with what she suspects would be a charming smile if she didn't know him any better.
“You really don't have to,” she says desperately.
“It's no trouble. I was just telling Loras I'm off all next week so I have nothing but time.”
“Isn't that funny, Brienne?” Renly says with a booming laugh. “You're both off next week.”
She glares at Renly when Lannister makes an interested noise. “That's not funny at all,” she hisses.
“It's a little funny,” Renly protests.
“No chance you're going somewhere where a certain shield might be?” Lannister asks.
Lie to him she tells herself. He hasn't earned your truth.
“I am,” she says instead, and the little devil on her shoulder curses her out before disappearing.
“What a remarkable coincidence,” Lannister says. “Shall we?”
“I'm not inviting you to my family home,” she snaps, and Lannister simply raises an eyebrow.
“I meant lunch, Ms. Tarth.”
She pinches herself to try to wake from this nightmare, but it only makes her arm ache as the four of them walk across the street to Renly and Loras' favorite cafe.
The tables here are small even when it's only the three of them; adding another big person just scrunches them all together, and no matter how hard she tries, she can't seem to get in between Loras and Renly, so she ends up touching knees with Lannister, close enough she can smell him and feel the warmth that radiates from his very firm body.
He said you should write fairytales, she reminds herself.
He looks like he came from a fairytale.
Lannister is polite to a fault all through lunch, talking easily with Loras and ingratiating himself to Renly, too, though Brienne can see Renly at least tries not to be immediately charmed by him. But it's obvious by the end of the meal that she's alone on her anti-Lannister side and the other two are on the pro side with him. He pays for lunch for all of them and then leaves a hefty tip – she knows because he leaves it as cash, tucked under a glass so it doesn't attract attention from someone just walking by. It's thoughtful. She hates him for it.
The four of them walk back across the street to the lobby, Brienne with her arms sullenly wrapped around her own body this time. Lannister keeps brushing her elbow, though it's busy out on the streets of downtown and they're both large people so it could just be accidental. He's not as tall as she is, but he's taller than she would have expected. His shoulders are broader, too, his waist and hips athletically narrow. By the time she gets that low she knows she should not go lower, but he's talking to Loras and Renly about something she doesn't care about so she takes one quick look at his general groin area. She can't tell anything from the fall of his slacks.
Lannister turns his wide, white-toothed smile on Brienne. “Truly an honor to finally meet you,” he says as they shake hands quickly again.
“Indeed,” she says.
“Loras is going to send you my contact information in case you do want some company on Tarth next week. I'll come to you, for a chance to see that shield.”
“Great,” she says. There is a zero percent chance she's going to call Jaime Lannister and invite him to her dad's home in the middle of her vacation.
Lannister looks like he's going to say something else, but he just gives her a flash of his teeth and bids them farewell and all three of them watch him very intently as he walks away.
Jaime doesn't consider himself a glutton for punishment. He likes a good brawl – verbal or otherwise – but he doesn't seek them out for no ulterior purpose other than the adrenaline. There needs to be some raison d'être that he's fighting for.
He's starting to suspect the reason behind his fighting with Brienne is in fact he just likes riling her up. She seems to take great pleasure in getting his goat, so it seems only fair he retaliate in kind. But when she doesn't, in fact, contact him the week they're both off, when she responds with a single terse sentence to his following Sunday crossword email congratulating her on her work ethic, he thinks maybe he should consider leaving her alone.
Jaime vows to do just that, and then forty-two down happens.
He waits until brunch is half-over before he even looks at the crossword puzzle today, instead indulging Tyrion in his messy grapefruit obsession as they both try to eat without squirting the other. Once that nonsense has passed and they're left with their bowls of granola and yogurt, Jaime folds the crossword section into his usual shape, grabs his pen, and gets to work.
It's all going swimmingly – it's a genuinely good crossword, one of Brienne's best so far and he's thinking about how to tell her that in email without coming across as too fawning – when he sees the clue for forty-two down.
Old professor of old subject at old school
He counts the spaces – nine, just enough for his last name – and nearly rips the newspaper filling it in. It's a perfect match.
“Motherfucker,” he says, and that grabs Tyrion's attention immediately.
“I didn't realize crosswords could be curse-worthy,” Tyrion says.
Jaime doesn't bother to respond. Instead he heads immediately for his office and composes an email.
Subject: Personal attacks
If you wish me to leave you alone, you need only ask it. I don't appreciate passive-aggressive jabs at me in the puzzle section of the newspaper.
Dr. Jaime Lannister
He glares at his inbox for a minute, and then back down at the paper. “Old professor,” he mutters out loud. “Is that really how she sees me?”
Jaime thinks about what he's learned now that he knows her name. Not much – he's ferreted out what he thinks is her degree information and she's nearly fifteen years younger than him, but that still puts her in her thirties. He's only forty-eight and everyone knows fifty is the new forty. It's absurd. Offensive.
He's only seen her the one time at lunch, but he'd been a bit struck by her. First her height – impossible to miss, and arresting in a very unexpected way. Then her build – solid as a brick house, the type of body that may not have sharply defined muscles but could easily hold a man down. Finally, she'd gotten close enough he could see her face and he'd been admittedly shocked at how messy it looked, everything slightly too big even on her large frame, until he'd focused on her eyes. They were remarkable, for lack of a more accurate word – and Jaime rarely lacked for words. He's never seen eyes that blue before, not on a real human. Perhaps on one of Cersei's expensive ceramic dolls growing up. Even those could not capture the depth of colors, like the surface of a shifting sea in sunlight.
Jaime rolls his eyes at himself and returns to breakfast where Tyrion has stolen the comics pages.
“Everything resolved, I hope?” Tyrion asks when Jaime sits down again and stirs his spoon aimlessly through his yogurt and granola.
“She thinks I'm old,” Jaime says.
Tyrion sighs and folds the paper down to stare at him. “Why didn't you leave her alone like I asked you to? It's just a crossword puzzle.”
“It's not just a crossword puzzle. It's the Times' crossword puzzle. It's practically an institution. These crosswords are saved in Oldtown Library, did you know that? Brienne Tarth's shoddy history work will be preserved forever, with nary a correction in sight.”
“What do you care? There's plenty of terrible things saved in that library. Everything gets saved in that library. Why don't you go after that historical fiction series you hate so much instead? That author deserves a swift kick in the ass, not this woman doing her job well enough.”
“Why does she bother to reply to me if she's never going to apologize?” Tyrion starts to open his mouth and Jaime cuts him off. “She's smug, that's what it is.”
“Well. I suppose you'd be more equipped than most to see smugness.”
“Ha ha ha.” Jaime throws his spoon down on the table, and yogurt goes flying across to land on the paper. “If she'd just admit she's wrong about Oathkeeper, the rest is, admittedly debatable history. Especially if it's true about the shield she says she has.”
“So the original sin is what keeps driving you? Why don't you just email her about that? Show her your sword.” Tyrion waggles his eyebrows at Jaime, and Jaime makes a disgusted groan.
“My interest is purely historical, Tyrion. Don't bring your puerile sense of lust into it.”
“I think you've got a boner for her brain.”
Jaime gapes at his little brother. “I don't even know what to say to that.”
“You should meet her, see if you get a boner for the rest of her. When's the last time you got laid? You're far overdue.”
“You're disgusting. It's purely a factual relationship. Not even a relationship – a correspondence. And I have met her, if you must know.”
“You've met her?” Tyrion sits up, and it's the most interested he's looked in any of this, possibly ever. They have spent many, many, many brunches together with Jaime moaning over some slight or another, and Tyrion puts up with him, but he never engages. Now he's leaning forward, his mismatched eyes bright with curiosity. “When? Where? Why didn't you tell me?”
“This is exactly why,” Jaime says waving his hand at Tyrion's over-eagerness. “I happened to run into Loras Tyrell week before last and he was waiting to have lunch with her and his new boyfriend.”
Tyrion narrows his eyes. “You happened to run into Loras? Doesn't he work at the Times?”
“Did you lurk around the lobby of the Times until you ran into her, like a creepy obsessive?”
“I didn't lurk,” Jaime says. “The point is, I've met the woman and I don't have a boner for any part of her.”
“What's she look like? I keep picturing a dainty little librarian-type. Brown hair up in a bun. Brown eyes, plain-faced until you take her glasses off and then she's beautiful.”
Jaime snorts derisively. “You couldn't be further from the truth. She's big – taller than me, and at least as broad. Strong as an ox by the look of her thighs.”
“Looking at her thighs, were you?”
“She has blonde hair,” Jaime presses on. “Very pale blond. Almost Targaryen-like. A positive galaxy of freckles all over, from what I could see. No glasses, and blue eyes. Shockingly blue. By far the most stunning part about her.”
“Stunning blue eyes.”
“If you'd seen them, you'd understand. I'm not sure there's a mere word to describe the color of her eyes. Not just the color, though, but the intensity behind them.”
“Mm,” Tyrion says, and Jaime has the feeling he's being laughed at, but he's not sure why.
“You asked what she looked like.”
“I did. I didn't ask for a detailed observation about her eyes. I would have settled for 'pretty.'”
Jaime picks up his spoon and scoops a huge dollop of yogurt. “You know me: why use one word when ten will do?”
He focuses very intently on his yogurt while Tyrion watches him eat.
Subject: RE: Personal attacks
I apologize for my inappropriate joke. I did not think you would take offense, but clearly I was wrong. Shall I issue a correction in next week's paper stating that you are not old?
Subject: RE: Personal attacks
Now you want to issue a correction? Perhaps there's more of a trickster spirit to you than I anticipated. I will accept your apology in lieu of the correction, thank you.
Dr. Jaime Lannister
PS – Your puzzle last week was excellent. The time off seems to have inspired you. Perhaps being near the shield motivated you to get your history right for once.
Subject: Kraken clue
Your clue for 13 down this week was inspired. Had a good laugh about it at the expense of my (annoying) Greyjoy colleague out on Pyke. Well done.
Dr. Jaime Lannister
Subject: RE: Children of the Forest
I did indeed watch that special the week of, which is where my inspiration from that clue came from. I was not aware that you had studied with Dr. Dayne “back in the day” (your words, if you recall; I know better than to make an old joke at your sensitive feelings' expense now). I would be interested in reading the letters he sent you about his unpublished theories. I promise not to reference them in a future crossword.
PS – Dr. Payne says hello and that he is quite swamped with end-of-school wrap-up, but he will answer your questions about his Oathkeeper research as soon as he is able.
Subject: Winterfell College Seminar Series
I have no notes about your crossword puzzle this week, however I have been made aware of a series of seminars being given at Winterfell College over this summer break that you might be interested in. They're every Saturday and will be deep-dives into different heroes of the Battle of the Long Night. I've been asked to give one on Goldenhand the Just. I'll be bringing Oathkeeper with me from our museum archives, if you wish to see it in person. I can send you the seminar information at your leisure.
Subject: RE: Winterfell College Seminar Series
You're correct, I would be extremely interested in attending the seminar series as I'm able, and particularly getting to see Oathkeeper. I didn't realize you had access to the original weapon. I'm sure Dr. Payne would be giddy as a schoolboy to see it himself, I'll extend the invitation to him as well. Thank you for thinking of me.
PS – you left off the 'Dr.' on your last correspondence. Sloppy of you, I assume you were overwhelmed with excitement at the idea of having an audience listen to you talk for three hours about Goldenhand.
Subject: RE: Winterfell College Seminar Series
I left the Dr. off on purpose. You're well aware of who I am by now, and I feel our correspondence has progressed to at least the basic penpal level. So I shall call you Brienne and you may call me Jaime. Invite Dr. Payne if you must. I look forward to seeing you.
Brienne can't make it to the first two Winterfell seminars, but Dr. Lannister's – Jaime's – seminar is the third week and she and Podrick make a weekend of it. She leaves early on Friday to pack, bidding Renly farewell and smiling wanly at his “Tell Jaime I said hello,” as she walks out of the cubicle. She never should have kept Renly apprised of the changing nature of her emails with Dr. Lannister. Jaime. But they've been confusing to receive and respond to, and with the last one she'd needed a third party's distanced eye.
“He likes you,” Renly had said upon reading it, and Brienne had blushed hotly and shoved him away from her computer.
“Be serious,” she'd told him.
“You've been emailing with him for four months straight. Do you think any of our other crossword editors have ever had that happen?”
“We've mostly been arguing,” she'd protested.
“Some people have a strange idea of foreplay,” he'd said with a shrug, and that had been when she'd stopped talking about it with him entirely.
The drive up to Winterfell takes most of the day, but it's fun to spend so much time with Podrick again. Brienne's degree is in English but her minor was in history and she'd tutored around the local colleges for awhile, which was how she'd met Pod, who'd been tearing his hair out about his thesis. The history of the Blue Knight is Brienne's favorite, and though she'd long been aware of Dr. Lannister's work on Goldenhand due to the two knights' intersecting stories, she'd always felt his take on Oathkeeper was unfinished. When she'd seen Pod's extrapolating work, she'd felt something sing inside her at its rightness, and they'd bonded tightly over their shared excitement.
Getting to see the actual sword in person together was the perfect trip for them to take.
“You know he's going to say it belonged to Goldenhand,” Pod sighs as the signs for Winterfell finally start appearing.
“You should challenge him.”
“At his own seminar?” Pod looks horrified. “No way. I'll be devoured.”
“I'll be there to support you. Besides, Dr. Lannister and I have been emailing for several months now, I'm sure he won't be too angry. He did invite us.” That wasn't strictly true, but it makes Podrick look like he's giving the idea a second thought, so she lets it hang.
They pull into the parking lot of their value-rate hotel and split to their separate rooms for the evening. When Brienne checks her email on her phone, she's surprised to see a message from Dr.-- Jaime.
Subject: Friday night
I drove up Friday to ensure I'd be well-rested for the seminar tomorrow. If you're similarly here, you can text me and we can have dinner together.
He's included his contact information and she stares at it in consternation. It's only seven, and she is hungry. But having dinner with Jaime Lannister feels... scary. Not because she's afraid of him, but because she's not.
She texts Podrick.
Brienne Tarth: Pod, we should get some dinner
Podrick Payne: I've ordered takeout already, sorry. Thought we were fending for ourselves.
Brienne Tarth: Dr. Lannister invited us to eat with him tonight
Podrick Payne: Then I'm definitely not going. I was going to practice my arguments in front of the mirror this evening
Podrick Payne:You should go – get intel ahead of time so I can better prepare
Brienne Tarth: It was an awfully long drive today
Podrick Payne: Please, Brienne? Make him buy you food and then pump him for information
She feels her cheeks redden although she knows Podrick didn't mean anything lascivious by it.
Brienne Tarth: Very well. Though there will be no pumping
Podrick Payne: O.O I didn't realize how that sounded until you said it
With teeth grit, Brienne types in the cell phone number Jaime had given her and then sends him a message.
Brienne Tarth: This is Brienne Tarth. I received your email
Jaime Lannister: Brienne! Are you in Winterfell?
Brienne Tarth: I am. I am accepting your invitation for dinner. Unfortunately Dr. Payne cannot join us
Jaime Lannister: I didn't invite Dr. Payne so that works out
Jaime Lannister: Meet me in the lobby of my hotel, there's a good steakhouse here
Jaime Lannister: You do eat steak don't you?
Brienne Tarth: I prefer seafood, but we're a long way from the sea. Steak will do.
Jaime Lannister: Good. How long til you can get here?
She does a quick map search based on the hotel name he gives her.
Brienne Tarth: Thirty minutes.
Jaime Lannister: I'll be waiting
He's only fifteen minutes away, but she wants a shower after being trapped in a sweaty car seat most of the day. She didn't bring extra clothes, assuming she and Pod would just hang out together all weekend, so she puts on the outfit she intends to wear to the seminar tomorrow, smooths down the blue button-up shirt, picks lint off of the black slacks, and then heads to her car.
Jaime is indeed waiting for her when she walks into the lobby. He's seated in an overstuffed armchair facing the door, and the moment she steps through he rises, smiling. Gods, somehow he looks even better tonight, in khaki's and a sweater-vest combo. They should make him look nerdy, but he manages to transcend whatever clothes he's got on and make them seem like the best thing a man could wear.
Brienne's not as annoyed by it as she had been; now she's mostly flustered, especially when he nears and she can smell him again. He smells the same as last time, sort of spicy and warming, like a hot toddy at the holidays.
“B dot Tarth,” he says, grinning at her. They shake, and Jaime's palm is silky against hers.
He motions for her to join him and they walk towards the hotel restaurant. “Your drive up went well, I hope?” he says as they wait to be seated.
“Pod and I had a good time.”
“Ah, Dr. Payne.” She doesn't like how he says Pod's name, but he quickly moves on. “And I can expect a fresh crossword on Sunday?”
“Of course. I always get my work done in time.”
“I would expect no less. Perhaps this Sunday morning I'll be able to do the crossword with you,” he says, giving her what is probably an innocent smile, but because she's thinking about spending the morning with him – and what that suggests about where she spent Saturday night – it comes across as much more wicked. She flushes and looks away.
“I'm sure they don't have the King's Landing Times here,” she mumbles.
“I'll have it. I ordered it specifically to be brought to my room.”
That's even worse to her over-active imagination, and she's grateful when the server leads them to a table. It's near the window, overlooking the wooded greenbelt that the hotel butts up next to. It's dark out, but the sky is clear and she can see stars coming out above the tops of the tall sentinel pines.
They sit quietly as they peruse their menus, order when the server comes back, and then reach for the bread basket at the same time, their fingers bumping. Brienne feels it like a jolt of electricity through her arm and yanks her hand back into her lap.
“Go ahead,” she murmurs.
Jaime takes a roll, butters it, and then holds it out to her. “Ladies first,” he says and she takes it with a small smile.
“I haven't seen you at the other two seminars,” he says casually as he butters his own roll. It sounds dirty when she thinks of it like that, and focusing on his long fingers manipulating the knife isn't making any of it any better.
“I couldn't make it.”
“But you made mine,” he says and gives her a smug smirk that makes her frown.
“You invited me specifically.”
“I did.” Something tight around Jaime's eyes softens and he takes a bite of his roll. “Thank you,” he says around the food in his mouth.
Brienne gives him a tight-lipped smile just as their salads arrive.
They make their way through bites of crunchy lettuce and croutons and she casually asks, "Where's the sword?"
“At Winterfell College. They don't just let me keep it in my room.”
“No, of course not,” she says, biting her lip. “That wouldn't make any sense.”
“But you'd hoped.”
She shrugs a little, staring down at her salad. The cherry tomatoes are so red they look fake. “I want to see it.”
“I'll make sure you see my sword,” he says and she looks up quickly, but he's taking a bite of salad and what she thought she'd heard in his voice doesn't appear on his face at all. “Stay after the seminar and I can get you into the storage room after everyone's gone.”
“Me and Podrick both.”
Jaime huffs, his lips pursed, but he nods. “Yes, you and Dr. Payne, of course.”
They finish their salads and the server clears the plates, fills up their waters – no alcohol for either of them, which is for the best – and then they stare at each other across their empty table.
“Tell me, Brienne: how did you become an editor of crossword puzzles?”
“I graduated with a Masters in English and didn't feel like teaching.”
His lips twitch. “Heavens forbid.”
“Some people are very good at it,” she says. “But I'm not. I don't like talking in front of a group of people, unless I can prepare for every aspect of it. I tried being a TA and it wasn't for me. When I got out of college I did some consultant writing for various magazines and papers, and picked up crosswords for someone on vacation for a month. I'd been doing crosswords all my life – my dad and I used to do them together every Sunday when I was a kid, and then I took over while he watched and helped me as I got older. Turns out I have a knack for it.” She takes a drink of water, embarrassed. Brienne's not much of a talker, especially to gorgeous, arrogant men.
“You're very good at it,” he agrees and she feels a flutter of pleasure in her belly, then immediately berates herself for it. She already knew she was good, she doesn't need his praise to believe it. “What about your fascination with history?”
“I've told you the Blue Knight is in my family line?” He nods. “We have some heirlooms that show paintings of her, books and things. I've always been fascinated by her, a woman knight in a time when women were expected only to be mothers. And she was reportedly tall, like me.” Brienne smiles wryly. “I used to pretend I was her and smack my brother with sticks until he had welts all over his legs.”
“Bit of a fighter in you, then.”
“Quite a bit. Galladon – my brother – was more of a performer. Which got me into a lot of trouble when he'd turn on the waterworks for our parents.”
“Well, seems fair if you were beating your little brother up.”
“He was older than me,” she says, laughing a little. “And until we were teenagers, taller, too.”
“Oh!” Jaime laughs, too. “Well-fought, then. I'm sure the Blue Knight would have been proud. Has he forgiven you?”
“He did,” she says, and she tries not to, but she can hear the wistfulness in her voice. “He, um, died, when I was in college.”
Jaime reaches across the table and lightly presses his fingertips to her forearm. “I'm sorry,” he says, all sincerity, and Brienne nods, swallowing hard.
“So what about you? How did you get so involved in history? Especially around Goldenhand.”
“Similar story to you, to be honest. He's an ancestor of mine, one of the few good ones. The best one, by all accounts. Our family donated Oathkeeper to the University when I was a kid, after it was discovered in some old storage, of all places.” Jaime winces, as though the idea of the sword being treated that way hurts him physically. “I learned everything about it, and that led to learning about Goldenhand. My father wanted me to study business, which made history all the more appealing.” He gives her a careless grin, but the tension is back around his eyes.
“Seems I'm not the only one with some fighting spirit,” she says lightly, and Jaime leans forward a little, beaming.
“Perhaps some,” he agrees. “Anyway, I went to college, stayed there for far too long to get my doctorate, alienated my entire family except for my brother, and then started my career. And here I am, having dinner with the esteemed crossword editor of the King's Landing Times.”
He toasts her with his glass of water and she knows her face goes pink as she toasts him back, their glasses chiming.
The rest of their food arrives and they pass an hour in easy conversation. They talk about recent documentaries they've both seen, they pick apart the Dayne letters that Jaime had sent, and they argue, of course, about Oathkeeper as they're finishing their food.
“Have you at least re-read Podrick's thesis?” Brienne asks, setting her napkin on the table. She's stuffed full and sleepy, and everything has been going so well it seems natural enough to ask.
“I have,” Jaime says slowly. “My thoughts aren't changed. If the blade belonged to your Blue Knight, why was the sword with Lannister heirlooms? It should have stayed on Tarth, with your shield.”
“The letters say that the sword came from Essos, that it had been wielded at his side until nearly the end of his life and now he wanted the sword to be sent where it could rest with him forever.”
“Those letters were written by a third-party, they're not a direct source.”
“The author was her squire!”
“For a time. But not when he wrote the letters. They'd been apart for decades at that point. The fact is, no one knows what happened to the Blue Knight once she disappeared a few years after the Army of the Dark was defeated. Most likely she returned to her role as a noblewoman. It's true that she wielded Oathkeeper during that battle, because Goldenhand was wielding Justice, but she disappears, and the sword was with Goldenhand when he died.”
“He died unmarried, with no heirs and no land, off across the sea. There are tales of a woman--”
Jaime scoffs. “There's always a tale of a woman with Goldenhand. So many women that he must have been exhausted from all of his extracurricular activities.”
Brienne glares at him. “This woman is a constant, and she matches the Blue Knight's description.”
“So you expect me to believe that the greatest Lannister hero gave up everything to travel far lands for the rest of his days with your giant female ancestor? And then when she died, he was so heartbroken he carried her sword around with him only to have it sent to her squire to be taken care of once Goldenhand had died alone?”
She inhales sharply, straightening in her chair. “Why is that so impossible to believe?”
“He was a hero. Heroes don't die of a broken heart, especially not for some mysterious warrior woman, unless they're in a bad romance novel.”
“I see.” Brienne balls up her napkin and sets it on the table. “Would it be more likely if she was small and beautiful?”
“At least it would make more sense,” he says and that feels like a dagger. It must show on her face – of course it does, she's terrible at hiding her hurt – because he holds out a hand. “We're just talking about history.”
“The present will be someone else's history someday,” she says tightly. “They were people, too, Jaime, not just heroes and villains. They fell in love, even with women you might find unlovable.”
“Wait a minute,” he says, his brow pinched. “I never said that.”
“You implied it.” She stands, shoving her chair back.
“Wait,” he repeats, standing, too. “We were only talking about a sword.”
“You were talking about a sword. I was talking about a heart,” she says quietly. “She loved someone deeply, and by every account I've ever read, it was him.”
“You think he loved her back,” Jaime says. He inhales deeply. “That's what you think Oathkeeper is: the evidence of his love.”
Brienne can feel tears threatening and she doesn't even know why. It doesn't matter, truly, whether Goldenhand loved the Blue Knight in return. They've both been dead for hundreds of years, and whatever pains and sadness they suffered shouldn't bother her. But it does, to think of this woman pining for a man she can never have, to have been so near to him and then spend the rest of their lives apart. It's unfair, and it breaks Brienne's heart and makes her own reality all too clear. If a well-loved and heroic woman knight couldn't find love, what hope does Brienne herself have, with her small life and her big body?
She fumbles for her wallet to see if she has enough bills to pay but Jaime waves her off.
“I'll put it on my hotel bill,” he says, quiet. “Brienne, I'm sorry--”
“You don't have to apologize,” she says around her too-thick tongue. “It's dumb. I'll see you tomorrow.” She flees from the restaurant and manages not to cry until she's safely back in her hotel room.
Jaime goes to bed feeling like an ass, and wakes up feeling even more like one. As he first wakes, he hopes that the dinner from the night before was only a nightmare, but he sees Brienne's texts on his phone and he knows it was all terribly real.
“You really fucked that up, Lannister,” he says to the ceiling, and then gets out of bed with a sigh, feeling all of his forty-eight years.
The problem is, he wouldn't take any of it back. Well, except that bit about the smaller, more beautiful woman, which even Jaime can see must have felt like a personal attack to Brienne. He considers calling his brother, but he doesn't feel like dealing with Tyrion's teasing right now. Jaime knows he's hurt Brienne's feelings, accidental though it was, and it stings even more because dinner had been going so well. It's the first dinner out he's had with someone not his brother in... entirely too long. She'd been excellent company, as quick to laugh as to roll her eyes at him, passionate about their discussions, smart and still open to learn. And her eyes had been magnetic. Jaime had been worried she'd get annoyed with how much he just stared into them, but she'd hardly seemed to notice.
He spends the morning composing texts to her in his head, but he's not sure how to say “I'm sorry I made it seem like I don't think you're marvelous, though you're still wrong about Oathkeeper.”
Jaime has spent his life studying history, the battles and lineages, plagues and foundational events. Personal lives never really seemed to matter when he looked at the scale of time. Who cares who Goldenhand did or didn't love? The man aspired to greatness, and greatness he attained.
Except, Brienne is right – Goldenhand was a hero, but he was also a man. That's what makes him so fascinating; not just his accomplishments but the very human failings that made those things hard. Gods know Jaime wouldn't want to be lionized by ancestors hundreds of years from now. He's well-aware of all of his annoying foibles, of the few people that actually put up with them. Which is Tyrion, mostly. And Brienne.
He sits at the edge of the hotel bed and grips his knees. She could have asked him to stop emailing at any time; he gave her a specific out weeks ago. But she never did, and their emails turned friendly, even flirty, he'd thought, with time. Dinner had been more than pleasant up until the last part. He hadn't made those awful sword innuendos accidentally, and her flushed cheeks had suggested she understood them. Jaime hadn't intended it to be so much like a date, but he hadn't been upset when it had leaned that way.
And now she thinks he finds her unlovable. Because Oathkeeper belongs to Goldenhand and not the Blue Knight. One tiny detail in an avalanche of history, and yet it makes all the difference to this moment in the present.
Jaime's alarm goes off and he sighs and gathers up his things. It's time to leave for the talk. At least he knows she'll be there, and perhaps they'll both be calmer in the light of day.
Brienne doesn't show.
Jaime waits for her at the door until the host, Jory Cassel, is nearly tugging his sleeve to get Jaime to come inside. He looks for Payne, too, but he has no idea what the man looks like, and if he's come, he's avoiding Jaime.
The talk goes well enough – Jaime could talk about Goldenhand for twelve hours, while drunk and stoned, and he's neither of those. Just distracted worrying about Brienne. Did she make it safely back to her hotel? Did she really leave after driving all this way? Will she ask him now to stop emailing her forever?
Jaime stumbles through a slide when that thought hits him, and he shoves it aside to focus on the task at hand. When he invites questions, he waits for Payne to bring up Oathkeeper, but the only questions are banal and easily answered and when no one else raises a hand, Jaime peers desperately around and says, “No one else, really? No questions about the sword?” But no one bites on the invitation and he thanks the audience and dismisses them.
He accepts a few handshakes and personal congratulations and is packing up his things when someone clears their throat behind him.
“Yes?” Jaime says tiredly, turning to face a man who must be in his late twenties, though his face still has a shadow of youthful roundness to it.
“Dr. Lannister,” the young man says, his voice high. He clears his throat again. “I'm Dr. Podrick Payne.”
Jaime takes a step closer and Payne takes a step back, startled. “Where's Brienne?”
“Is she here?” Jaime peers over Payne's shoulder, but Brienne is nowhere to be seen. It's just the two of them, and Jory waiting impatiently at the door.
“She's at the hotel. She said she wasn't feeling well and couldn't make it. I drove her car here.”
“She didn't say anything about dinner last night?”
“N-no?” Payne frowns at him. “Why?”
“Never mind. What do you want?”
“I-I wanted to see Oathkeeper. Brienne said--”
“Right.” Jaime exhales loudly. “Of course.” They'd moved the sword back into storage immediately after Jaime had finished, and he waves Jory over. Jory is annoyed at the request, but he knows his job is to do what the seminar guests want, so he leads them to the weather-controlled room where Oathkeeper will stay overnight until it's transported safely back to KLU in the morning. Jory hovers at the door while Jaime unlocks the case and Payne leans in, holding his breath.
“It's stunning,” Payne whispers eventually, covering his mouth so his breath doesn't get on the weapon. It's true Valyrian steel, and even when it had been discovered in Lannister storage it had been in nearly perfect condition. “It's not right, though.”
Jaime stills, his hands on the cover, ready to close it again. “What do you mean? This isn't a replica, it's the actual sword.”
“I know, but the lion eyes, they're not right.”
“Two rubies, it's described that way in every depiction of the Long Night. They were missing when the sword was found, the only part that was, but those are the only non-original part of the weapon.”
“They started as rubies,” Payne agrees, “but they didn't end that way. They were replaced before the sword was returned to the Lannisters at the end of Goldenhand's life.”
Jaime carefully closes the case back up and turns to study Payne. “Replaced with what?” he asks, but there's some clenching, indescribable feeling in his belly that suggests he already knows what Payne is going to say.
“Sapphires, Dr. Lannister. The rubies were lost or removed after the battle, after Goldenhand went on his journeys. You've studied the Essosi Journals of that time?”
“Goldenhand takes the sword to a renowned blacksmith while there, to have the sword modified.”
“Not modified,” Jaime says. “He writes that he has it repaired.”
“Right. But it's a Valyrian steel blade. What is there to repair?”
Jaime looks down at the sword, still in pristine condition hundreds of years later. “The hilt, then. The scabbard. There are many repairs to be made to even a sword like this.”
“There are. But have you ever looked at the blacksmith's records around the time Goldenhand would have been there?”
“No,” Jaime admits. “I just assumed.”
Payne smiles a little. “It's a reasonable assumption. But I had a research assistant who was rather interested in this question, and she looked through all of them. There was no order for gold, or for Valyrian steel, or any material that would match a blade like this. Just two gems, measurements sized exactly for fittings like these.”
“Sapphires,” Jaime says softly, and Payne nods. It feels like a tumbler clicking into place. “The Blue Knight. The sword was hers.”
“It was his at first, you're right about that. But once he gave it to her, it was hers from that point on. It was at his side, but she was wielding it.”
Jaime looks down at the blade again, hovering his hand along the glass. It's the same sword it was, but knowing now what it means, it looks entirely different.
“Why wasn't this in your thesis?”
“We found it out too late, and the rest of the evidence was sufficient to pass. I included it as an addendum, but you must still have the old version.”
“I do,” Jaime admits. “I'd like to read the updates, can you send it to me?”
“Of course. So you believe me?”
“I believe the research.” And Brienne, he thinks, though he won't admit that out loud. “Though it certainly is a blow to my academic ego.”
“You weren't wrong,” Payne says cautiously. “Just... misguided.”
Jaime laughs, loudly, recalling the email he'd sent to Brienne telling her much the same.
“Podrick,” Jaime says, “may I call you Podrick?” The younger man nods quickly. “Thank you, for this. Please tell Brienne--” He hesitates. There are too many things to tell Brienne, and they should all come from Jaime. “Tell her she was missed, and that I'll be in touch.”
“We don't leave until tomorrow morning, maybe she'll be feeling better tonight?”
“No, I have some things I need to take care of, I'm heading back to King's Landing immediately.” He taps the case lightly with his fingers. “I have work to do.”
Podrick passes along Jaime's message when he gets back from the seminar, tells her that Jaime seemed to believe, finally, that Oathkeeper was the Blue Knight's weapon.
“He did?” she asks, looking hopefully at him.
“He seemed excited about it. Left today to head back to King's Landing.”
“Oh,” she says, her shoulders dropping. She'd hoped-- but it was foolish. “And he said he'll be in touch?”
“Yes. I'm sorry you didn't get to see the weapon up close, though. It was beautiful.”
“I bet it was,” she says, sighing. “Maybe I'll visit the University museum to see it sometime.”
They spend the afternoon sight-seeing, Podrick keeping up the conversation for both of them, and then they have an enjoyable meal together that evening. Brienne checks her messages when they get back, but there's no word from Jaime. When they get home late the next afternoon, there's still no message, even though it's Sunday and her puzzle is out.
Monday she gets in and eagerly checks her email, but there's still no message from Jaime. Renly comes in and leers at her.
“Sooooo, how was the seminar?” Somehow he makes seminar sound like a dirty word.
“I didn't go,” she tells him sharply. “I wasn't feeling well.”
“Oh.” His face falls and he rolls his chair over to her. “Is everything all right?”
“It's fine. I was just sick, that's all. I'm fine now, don't worry. Nothing to catch. Nobody will ever have to get any of my germs,” she says and she feels like crying again so she blinks rapidly at her computer screen and ignores Renly's wide-eyed stare.
The silence continues through the week, and she knows she could just as easily contact Jaime first, but he'd said he would do it and Brienne's not desperate enough to throw herself at a man who obviously only sees her as a colleague at best. So she spends all week working on her crossword puzzle and leaves out any history clues for the first time. When she turns the puzzle in on Friday, it's a relief, like she's finally freed herself of some burden she hadn't been aware she was carrying.
She mopes around the house Saturday, and when she wakes on Sunday she decides it's time to stop feeling sorry for herself and start taking her life back from rude, handsome, obnoxious, funny professors.
That's when her phone dings with a message from Jaime.
Jaime Lannister: Good morning B. Tarth
Jaime Lannister: Have you done the crossword today?
Brienne stares at the texts. Even when she shuts her eyes tightly and then opens them again, the messages are still there. She waits ten minutes before responding.
Brienne Tarth: I wrote it.
Succinct, but not offensive. The perfect reply.
Jaime Lannister: Not according to the paper
Jaime Lannister: Says there was a guest submission this week
“What?” Brienne says to her empty apartment. She hurriedly calls up the Times' website, goes to the crossword puzzle, and stares in shock. That's not her crossword at all. It's comically small, and the clues are ridiculous.
Her phone dings again.
Jaime Lannister: You should do it
Jaime Lannister: I'll see you after you're done
Confused – suspicious – Brienne prints out the crossword and starts working at it slowly. It doesn't seem to have a noticeable theme. Some of the clues are much too easy for the Times' readership, others are far too vague. But slowly, as she pieces it together, she realizes there's a message in the answers, and as it unveils itself to her, her heart begins to pound.
By the time she's got the entire thing filled out, the words written in her neat, blocky handwriting next to each clue, her hand is trembling. Brienne reads the message hidden in the crossword.
Blood thundering through her body, Brienne grabs her wallet and her jacket and races for the King's Landing University Museum, the completed crossword puzzle fluttering to the ground in her wake.
Jaime Lannister knows his reputation. He's smart and acidic, quick to disagree and slow to admit fault. Students like him well enough – “tough but fair” has shown up on almost every end-of-year teacher survey he's ever received. His fellow professors mostly tolerate him, except for the fresh batch of new ones that always seem convinced they'll win him over. Men like him once they get over their jealousy. Women like him, at first for his looks but eventually because he's never really shown much interest in them as sexual conquests and so they feel safe. He's never shown much interest in anyone, truthfully. Not until Brienne.
It took until he was nearly fifty, but as he sees her hurrying down the long hall to where he's waiting at the entrance to the Oathkeeper display, he feels like his heart is truly beating for the first time. He felt like that before he knew who she was, but seeing her now – pale hair gleaming under the lights, face red from her quick pace, and those magical eyes so full of worry and hope – it's as though his dreams have been given shape and they're striding right for him.
“Hello,” he says when she stops, panting slightly.
“Hello.” Her voice is so gentle for such a big woman. “You wrote a crossword puzzle.”
“I did. It was agony, I don't know how you do it every week.”
“Why didn't you just send me an email? I waited to hear from you all week. You told Pod you'd be in touch and then... you weren't.”
She has a tender heart, something Jaime hadn't fully realized until dinner last weekend. All those jokes about fairytales and here was a princess all along. “I thought it would be more romantic this way,” he tells her sheepishly. “You seem to like romance and I couldn't figure out how to tell you all the things I wanted to say anyway.”
Brienne bites her lip, but there's a smile at the ends of her mouth. “Well, are you going to tell me now?”
Jaime laughs a little. “No. I'm going to show you.” He reaches for her hand and she lets him link their fingers together. Her palm is dry and strong, and when she tightens her grip around his he feels it in his chest. “Come on.”
Silently, Jaime leads her through the Age of Heroes exhibit, to where Oathkeeper takes up a place of honor, lights arranged around it to provide the best visibility without burning into the sword day and night. He gestures for her to lean closer, says, “What do you see?”
He watches her examining the sword, sees the moment she notices what he's done, because her eyes widen and she inhales sharply. “Sapphires,” she whispers.
Jaime looks then, too, though he already knows what she means. He'd spent the week doing two things – working on that damnable crossword and getting a premier restoration expert to fix Oathkeeper. Where two priceless rubies had been before, were now two stunning blue sapphires.
“Did you... did you do this for me?” Brienne asks in a hushed voice.
“I did it because it's historically accurate,” he says, and when her chin trembles a little he hastens to add, “and for you.” Brienne looks up quickly, her eyes shining. “I didn't contact you this week because I know how words can get lost in the annals of time. But actions, those can last forever. When Podrick told me about the research you'd done proving the sapphires, I couldn't look at Oathkeeper the same way. It looked wrong, like it had been mis-translated. It's right, now. The way it was meant to be. I did it for you, so you would believe me when I tell you: every person is lovable. Even the Blue Knight.”
“Especially you,” he says firmly. “Ask me how I know.”
She's breathing hard, but so is he. It's not too busy on a Sunday morning, and the few people around are walking past quickly, giving them space and time with Oathkeeper. “You said you double liked me.”
“I couldn't make it work any other way,” he tells her. “Do you know how bloody difficult it is to put one of those together?”
The dry look she gives him makes him laugh with delight. “Are you still going to correct my crosswords every week?” she asks.
“Yes,” he says at once. “Though hopefully I can provide my feedback in person from now on.”
A truly remarkable blush spreads over her face and down her neck, and Jaime steps closer, gently puts his hands at her waist. She shivers a bit but doesn't pull away. Her hands come to rest on his shoulders, as delicate and wonderful as butterflies.
“Brienne,” he says formally. “I couldn't fit this into the puzzle, so I'm forced to ask you directly: may I kiss you?”
The smile she gives him is so bright it almost outshines her lovely eyes. Almost. “One across, three letters. The opposite of no,” she says, and he pulls her in and kisses her deep.
Monday morning, Brienne arrives at work to a flurry of angry emails from loyal solvers ranting about the nonsensical crossword. She reads each one with a huge smile on her face, remembering Sunday, and Sunday night, and that morning. Just as she's deleted the last one, she gets a notification of a new email. It's from Jaime, and she peeks over at Renly, who's focused on his own work, before she opens it.
Subject: Continuing our discussion from breakfast
Although you did your best to distract me, I haven't forgotten your absurd suggestion that Bloodraven was Brandon Stark. I don't know what backwater Geocities website you read that theory on, but I implore you to not include it as a crossword clue this week.
I'll make it worth your time.
Dr. Jaime Lannister
PS – Consider your response carefully. Who knows who'll read these emails later. xxx, Jaime
Brienne thinks about what to say, about all the things they've talked about since that first email months ago. She smiles down at her keyboard as she begins to type.
Dearest Dr. Lannister,
I will consider your offer very carefully. In the meantime: can I interest you in a trip to see a shield?